The 2012 final was everything an Indian domestic player who might not make it to the national team could want - a big stage, a capacity crowd, the thirst to win a title and prove a point, to yourself if not to everyone.
My position in the XI wasn't a given. I'd played on and off until that point, so my only aim was to soak in every aspect of our training, fitness drills, meetings, and team activities for one last time. It was my wife's birthday, and if we won, it would've been the perfect birthday gift for her.
I didn't have much hope of playing in the final. I'd been batting well but was left out mid-season after being unable to convert starts. Brendon McCullum and Gautam Gambhir formed a formidable combination at the top, so I knew I had to wait for my chances. When I got left out, I remember Brendon putting his arm around me and telling me to believe in myself. He said, "You're a match-winner. The big knock isn't far away. No matter what others say, until you believe, you can't feel better. You're batting beautifully, we all can see that, and when you get a chance, you'll smash it." Those words gave me a massive lift.
The afternoon of the final, after lunch we were all called for a team meeting. L Balaji had injured himself during the playoffs and was ruled out, so there had to be a forced change. Gautam announced I'd be part of the XI, in place of Balaji. It meant Brendon had to miss out. But no sooner was my name announced than he came up to me and gave me a big hug and wished me well. I'll always remember that gesture.
That team meeting was extra special, because the Kolkata Knight Riders management played video messages from all our families. You could see a lot of the players in tears - it meant a great deal to them that the franchise cared for human emotions. It felt amazing seeing my parents wish me on a giant screen, and then everyone around me applauding because I was going to be getting another opportunity.
As a captain, Gautam was fiercely protective of his players. He was like an older brother. Win or lose, he needed to just see focus and intensity. Even when I wasn't converting starts, he was never short of encouraging words if he saw the effort. So chats with him at different times during the competition gave me the reinforcement that I was very much valued. Vijay Dahiya, our assistant coach, was also a great motivator. These two made it easy for me to deal with both success and failure.
I opened the batting. We were chasing 190 and Gautam was out in the first over. For a change, I didn't feel the pressure. Sunil Narine, who was our bowling trump card, had been picked quite easily by the Chennai Super Kings batters. There wasn't much turn, and I knew this wasn't a typical Chepauk surface. So I just told myself: "Here's your platform, everyone's watching. Make it a night to remember." Jacques Kallis was batting at the other end, and he emphasised the importance of playing for short targets.
As I started getting into my innings, I entered a zone I find hard to recall even today. Even if there was some friendly banter around me, I can't remember what was said because I was completely focused on the job at hand. It was so hot; I was sweating buckets and was trying to conserve as much energy as I could in between.
The one shot I remember clearly is a lofted inside-out hit for six off R Ashwin. It's a shot I can still replay in my mind. Ash was at the peak of his white-ball powers and clever in the way he varied his lengths. So to outfox him by playing that shot was mighty special.
I wanted to see the team home but got out with us needing 50-odd. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and the disappointment of not seeing the team over the line pricked me. I didn't even take off my pads until the winning runs were hit. The next 30 minutes after I got out seemed rather long, but when Manoj Tiwary hit the winning runs, I can't remember the next few seconds. We'd won, it was mayhem in the dressing room. Shah Rukh Khan, the team owner, was dancing in the stands.
We stayed in the dressing room for a good two or three hours after the game, dancing with SRK, singing and celebrating the win. We cherished a hard-fought campaign. I was on a call with my parents when SRK asked if he could talk to them, and he spoke so glowingly about me. That was another special memory. It was also a perfect gift for my wife.
The next day we were on a flight to Kolkata. I had seen how people had danced on Marine Drive after India won the 2011 World Cup final. This felt similarly incredible. The roads were filled with people, Eden Gardens was decked up, and there were nearly 80,000 people wanting to get a glimpse of us. I didn't think a city-based franchise team would get that kind of love. It was magical.